Empathy Requires Understanding

January 7, 2019, Department, by Gina Mullins-Cohen

Gina Mullins Cohen Standing Pond 410

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.
— Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Homelessness is a crisis that is not exclusive to large, urban areas, like New York City or Los Angeles. From the middle-class suburbs of the Midwest to small towns in the South, homelessness is everywhere — especially in public parks. Yet, while most people recognize it’s a growing problem, some may have broad misconceptions about the homeless population or, worse, perpetuate myths by engaging in public shaming.

According to 2017 Los Angeles County data, 50,000 of its residents are classified as homeless. And, among those adults surveyed, 8 percent stated they were working, but on a part-time, seasonal or temporary basis. Additional data revealed that of those adults who were homeless with children, 27 percent said they were employed either full time or part time.

Park agencies have the daunting task of easing friction between traditionally housed park goers and homeless individuals, forced to utilize these public spaces as a means of shelter. What’s more, park managers must strike a balance between addressing the health and safety concerns associated with homelessness and remaining empathetic to their predicament. But how can park professionals hope to address the homeless situation in a thoughtful, careful manner if they cannot fully grasp the how and why?

Contributors Milo Neild, M.S., and Jeff Rose, Ph.D., provide a clearer picture of the intricacies of homelessness in the feature, “Homelessness in Public Parks,” on page 50. Through a series of interviews with park managers, individuals facing homelessness, police and social service providers, Neild and Rose offer greater insight along with a comprehensive list of talking points for agencies pursuing public education on homelessness.

NRPA hosted an Innovation Lab in Los Angeles, in May 2017, that brought together park professionals and city officials to engage in meaningful dialogue about the challenging and complicated issue of homelessness. This is a subject that NRPA will continue to touch on in the future along with other important topics, including the opioid crisis.

Opioid abuse made the list of “Top Trends in Parks and Recreation for 2019” on page 44. Marking a fourth year, NRPA’s Richard Dolesh is providing industry analysis and much-anticipated predictions of key trends impacting parks and recreation in the new year. For example, Dolesh predicts that park agencies will expand their efforts to address the opioid crisis head on and allocate funding for additional training for all staff to enhance public safety. Among the more unusual trends in 2019 would have to be pig yoga. Now, I’ve heard of downward dog, but downward pig?

Do you know of some trending topics or top predictions that you would like to share with your P&R colleagues? Feel free to email Rich Dolesh. We appreciate your input and encourage you to suggest topics and issues you’d like to see us address.

Gina Mullins-Cohen is NRPA's Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Publishing, and Parks and Recreation's Editorial Director.